A report into the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) has found there are legitimate concerns that without labour market protections the Turnbull government will “invite a wave of Chinese workers into Australia”, driving down local wages and conditions.
The report found that unless employers are required by law to prove a skills shortage exists, it will be "entirely possible" under the FTA for a hospital or care home, for example, to simply choose to replace its Australian nurses with Chinese nurses.
Engineers and "most trades" will also be exposed to direct competition from imported Chinese labour under the FTA as it is currently drafted.
The FTA prevents the Australian government from putting any cap on the number of 457 visas issued to Chinese workers in two critical lower skilled categories: "contractual service suppliers of China" – basically trade qualified workers and "installers and servicers of China" – low skilled workers who will be able to access temporary visas.
The report gives support to unions and Labor to back up their efforts to get labour market testing put into law. Labour testing is designed to prevent an employer from preferencing an overseas worker over a local worker.
The politically explosive report is by employment migration expert Dr Joanna Howe, a senior law lecturer at Adelaide University and Rhodes Scholar who has advised the current Coalition government on its temporary worker 457 visa program. The report was commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union but the union had "no editorial input into the researching and writing of the report", said Dr Howe.